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Learning is the work

continued from Why do I need KM?

Work is learning and learning is the work.


Because the nature of work is changing. For example, automation is replacing most routine work. That leaves customized work, which requires initiative, creativity and passion. Valued work, and the environments in which it takes place, is becoming more complex. Professionals today are doing work that cannot be easily standardized.

In complexity, we can determine the relationship between cause and effect only in retrospect. Think about that. It puts into question most of our management frameworks that require detailed analysis before we take action. It also shows that identifying and copying best practices is pretty well useless.

In complex work environments, the optimal way to do work is to constantly probe the environment and test emergent practices. This requires an engaged and empowered workforce. Emergent practices are dependent on the cooperation of all workers (and management) as well as the free flow of knowledge.

Work in complex situations requires a greater percentage of implicit knowledge, which cannot be easily codified. Research shows that sharing complex knowledge requires strong interpersonal relationships. But discovering innovative ideas usually comes through loose social ties. Organizations need both, and communities of practice can help to connect tight work teams with loose social networks. Communities of practice can provide a safe space for professionals to challenge each other at the cutting edge of their expertise.

future jobs work valueEffective organizational knowledge-sharing for this new world of work needs individuals who are adept at sense-making. One framework for this is personal knowledge management.

PKM is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world, and work more effectively.

Personal = according to one’s abilities, interests & motivation
(not directed by external forces).

Knowledge = connecting information to experience
(know what, know who, know how).

Management = getting things done
(not being managed).

PKM connects work and learning, guided by three principles:

  • Seek playfully to connect.
  • Make sense and be empowered through learning.
  • Share to inspire through your work.

PKM is individuals sense-making and sharing their knowledge.

curation to socialThe future of work is customized, complex, and intangible. In this environment, sense-making and knowledge-sharing become critical skills. This will be in our teams, communities, and networks; but mostly it will be individual workers engaged in all three at once.

The most effective learning in the new world of work will be when engaged individuals, working out loud, share their knowledge. Training and education will remain inputs, but minor ones. One concrete result of this sense-making and knowledge-sharing should be performance support. As people work out loud, they can identify and develop tools and techniques to support emergent practices. In the 70:20:10 Framework, Charles Jennings describes workplace learning as based on four key activities:

  1. Exposure to new and rich experiences.
  2. The opportunity to practice.
  3. Engaging in conversation and exchanges with each other.
  4. Making time to reflect on new observations, information, experiences, etc.

This is where learning is the work.

learning is the work

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